Brandon Jennings looks to the basket against the Clippers on Monday; he went scoreless in the game. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
Auburn Hills — The look has been clearly etched on Brandon Jennings’ face recently and despite his outward confidence and noticeable swagger, the numbers illustrate what his face cannot hide.
Confusion and uncertainty.
It came somewhat to a head Monday as Jennings went scoreless for only the second time in his 330-game NBA career, in the Pistons’ 112-103 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He took seven shots in 28 minutes but wasn’t in rhythm all game.
“Just an off night,” Jennings said. “Everybody has off nights.”
For the Pistons’ sake, this had better be the lowest point for Jennings’ season, as he’s going through a slump that ranks among the worst months of his five-year NBA career. He’s shooting just 26 percent this month, averaging 10.4 points and 8.6 assists in 33 minutes (eight games).
It’s well-known he’s doing more than refining his game from his years in Milwaukee, where he chucked up shots because he had to; it’s almost a full overhaul now, perhaps leading to overanalyzing his game.
“I think I’m just thinking too much, trying to find guys instead of looking for my shot,” Jennings said. “So when I do, I’m out of rhythm because I’m not looking for it.”
When Jennings is at his best, he’s leading a fast-tempo attack, occasionally taking the transition 3-pointer most traditional coaches would cringe at, and taking other chances.
The Pistons seem to play that style only when they get defensive stops, which have been scarce, and running the set offense that has a nontraditional pieces Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith isn’t exactly the easiest to navigate for the most experienced point guard.
Trying to harness that has made Jennings look almost robotic, which probably has led to Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks wanting to simplify matters.
“He just didn’t shoot the ball well. It’s not about thinking,” Cheeks said. “Part of the game is thinking. It’s a happy medium where you run offense or take shots. It’s not something new. You have shots, you take them. You make them or miss them.”
Cheeks made it clear he doesn’t subscribe to the theory of overthinking, but he wants Jennings to toe the line from aggression to recklessness.
“He’s got to be aggressive in the game,” Cheeks said. “You cannot be afraid to make a mistake. You’re gonna make mistakes. Play to his ability and his ability is good enough for him and good enough for us.”
When he’s aggressive, it can look like he’s playing one on five, using the entire floor to make a play, which leaves teammates feeling tuned out. On occasions this season, he has shown the ability to be a great soloist but even then, he’s never looked fully comfortable.
“It’s been a little difficult, but it’s definitely going to take some time,” Jennings said. “I’m still gonna keep doing what I’m doing. This is a learning year for me, trying to be able to run a team. In Milwaukee I was just playing basketball and shooting at will. This year, I’m taking a step back.”
He denies feeling like a rookie all over again, but if Jennings is having to throw everything he thought he knew about playing the position in Milwaukee out the window, then he’s essentially at Baltic Avenue trying to make it to Boardwalk.
“If I get rolling with assists early, I kind of forget about myself, when I should take a couple shots here and there to feel things out,” he said.
But he doesn’t want to alienate teammates if a good thing is going, leading to more confusion —not unlike most scoring point guards adjusting to new situations.
“It’s not a tough transition, it’s the NBA. It’s not tough, it’s just gonna take time,” Jennings said.